So, you wanna go to law school, eh? Come, join the ranks of the overworked, squinting from eyestrain, crippled from carpal tunnel syndrome, caffeine-addicted, socially vilified freaks that are law students. Soon, you’ll be one of us. HOO-HOO_HAHAHAAAAA! Sounds like fun? Oh yeah, like a funkadelic ride on The Fire-and-Brimstone Express.
Where are we going, and what’s with the handbasket?
This posting will, I hope, be Very Helpful for anyone considering working towards a law degree. On a personal note, I got my degree from New York Law School in June of 1992. Things a prospective law student should consider…
1. Why do you want a law degree? For me, it was a combination of factors. I’ve been told that I write well, and I love to read, so two of the skills I needed were present. I have a finely honed sense of justice, and the concept of using those skills to help an ever-widening circle of people had great appeal. In fact, this was the deciding factor for me. I can’t add a jot, and while I passed high school and college calculus, it took years off my life. Math skills are not among my gifts. However, the idea of my words having a positive impact on another person’s life held great interest for me from high school on. Aptitude and desire must be present in equal measure. Personal opinion – if all you want is status and money, you will be a failure as a lawyer and as a human being. Altruism is the ONLY way to truly succeed in this field.
By the way, not everyone who goes to law school goes on to be a high-powered litigator. In fact, some, like me, aren’t even admitted to practice. You can use your law degree in a variety of advisory capacities that don’t require a bar exam. Personally, I am a Compliance Supervisor at a mid-sized broker-dealer, and every day I help the sales force conduct clean, honest business that they can be proud of. I also help educate them on the right way to do their jobs. If a client has been wronged, I can fix it. If a client is trying to rip off my firm, I can fix that too. I can help the firm move closer to its’ goals in a professional way. And they PAY me for this!!! However, the most rewarding part is the service I can provide to friends and family – I’ve seen everything from car leases to casting contracts to customer complaints. Seeing their faces light up when they get the desired result is a little slice of heaven for me.
Reasons NOT to go to law school – Mommy and Daddy want me to, I can’t get into medical school, I got a scholarship, I want to be a professional student for the next 3-4 years, I just saw “Legally Blonde”, and the clothes were, like, bangin’.
Decide WHY you want to go first, then consider…
2. How will you finance it? Law school is expensive. If your folks will pay for it, great! If not though, don’t be discouraged. When I went to law school from 1989 – 1992, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I had a job as a clerk in a personal injury attorney’s office. It paid $350. per week, take home. I lived in a crummy studio apartment in a BAD suburban neighborhood. The realtor told me, “You’ll be integrating this block.”, and my neighbors called me the “El Blanquito Loco” because I left at 6 AM and came home at 11 PM, lugging books and briefcase. Through loans, grants and that awful job, I paid for it all myself, and I am very proud that I did it. Why? Well, it’s MINE. The financial aid department at your school of choice is a valuable resource for students who are exploring the various programs available. A determined student is one they will be glad to help.
3. Are you willing to commit a huge chunk of your life and time to study? If not, don’t bother. You are expected to master your subject, and frequently YOUR ENTIRE GRADE for a course will hinge on ONE TEST – the final. If you don’t know an answer to a legal question, you are expected to know how to find out. This is NOT easy, kids, and if your work ethic is sloppy, then law school is NOT for you. Study can be fun and informative, but in subject areas that are not of interest to you it can also be dry-as-dust-drudgery. You will find yourself “talking shop” with fellow students in a way that is offensive to your “other” friends, and your family may go weeks without seeing you. It’s only temporary, but it seems like forever.
4. Days or nights? I WILL get hate mail for this, but most day students I saw were the kind of smarmy, self-absorbed intellectual snobs that give the legal profession (and humanity) a bad name. Most were there because Mommy and Daddy wanted to say, “My son/daughter, the lawyer” when introducing them. They also cheated like Bill Clinton on every exam, which wouldn’t be my concern except that NYLS graded on a curve. I switched to nights after one semester. What a difference! The night students had interesting day jobs, as did the professors, and after a month or so, me! This made classroom debate much less of an intellectual exercise and more of a sharing of practical knowledge. The networking was better, the classes more interesting, the friendships more real. I was able to integrate my work and job experiences well – my writing requirement was fulfilled by a project at my new office! I recommend night study, unless you like reptiles.
5. What do you want to do with your newfound knowledge? Part-time jobs can help you decide, as can volunteer work and internships (be careful with those, folks). A general idea (“I want to help people.”), coupled with your skill set and interests (“I’m good at building stuff.”) can combine to form a wonderful career path (Habitat for Humanity) Focus on what you like and are good at. Your last year of law school will be your year of concentrated study, so see what courses are offered and how you like them.
And here’s my version of “Wear Sunscreen” for prospective law students:
1) Do it because you want to, because you love the law and the good it can do. Don’t go for your parents. You can often “audit” classes for free at local law schools to get an idea of the time and effort involved. Personal recommendation – audit a contracts class – you will use the knowledge you gain.
2) Be fully prepared to commit time and effort to study, and for the financial obligations that come with tuition.
3) If you truly want to go, find a way. Don’t let money stand in the way.
4) With power comes responsibility. You MUST use your knowledge and skill to help others, even if you have to volunteer to do it because your career doesn’t facilitate it. Failure to do so will turn around and bite you in your karmic behind.
5) Be prepared to learn some interesting things about yourself and other people. To steal from the Desiderata, “Listen to others, even the dull and ignorant, for they too have their story.” And remember, sometimes YOU are “the dull and ignorant”.
Res ipsa loquitur*
*From the Latin – “The thing speaks for itself.”